Trap characteristics and species morphology explain size-biased sampling of two salamander species

Demographic studies often depend on sampling techniques providing representative samples from populations. However, the sequence of events leading up to a successful capture or detection is susceptible to biases introduced through individual-level behaviour or physiology. Passive sampling techniques may be especially prone to sampling bias caused by size-related phenomena (e.g., physical limitations on trap entrance). We tested for size-biased sampling among five types of passive traps using a 9-year data set for two species of aquatic salamanders that have a 20 and 61 fold change in length over their ontogeny (<i>Amphiuma means</i>, <i>Siren lacertina</i>). Size-biased trapping was evident for both species, with body size distributions (body length mean and SD) of captured individuals differing among sampling techniques. Because our two species differed in girth at similar lengths, we were able to show that size biases (in length) were most likely caused by girth limitations on trap entry rates, and potentially by differences in retention rates. Accounting for the biases of sampling techniques may be critical when assessing current population status and demographic change.